Category Archives: Labor Unions

Union Members – 2018

Source: U.S. Bureau of Labor Statistics, Press Release, USDL-19-0079, January 18, 2019

The union membership rate–the percent of wage and salary workers who were members of unions–was 10.5 percent in 2018, down by 0.2 percentage point from 2017, the U.S. Bureau of Labor Statistics reported today. The number of wage and salary workers belonging to unions, at 14.7 million in 2018, was little changed from 2017. In 1983, the first year for which comparable union data are available, the union membership rate was 20.1 percent and there were 17.7 million union workers.

Highlights from the 2018 data:
–The union membership rate of public-sector workers (33.9 percent) continued to be more than five times higher than that of private-sector workers (6.4 percent). (See table 3.)
–The highest unionization rates were among workers in protective service occupations (33.9 percent) and in education, training, and library occupations (33.8 percent). (See table 3.)
–Men continued to have a higher union membership rate (11.1 percent) than women (9.9 percent). (See table 1.)
–Black workers remained more likely to be union members than White, Asian, or Hispanic workers. (See table 1.)
–Nonunion workers had median weekly earnings that were 82 percent of earnings for workers who were union members ($860 versus $1,051). (The comparisons of earnings in this release are on a broad level and do not control for many factors that can be important in explaining earnings differences.) (See table 2.)
–Among states, Hawaii and New York had the highest union membership rates (23.1 percent and 22.3 percent, respectively), while North Carolina and South Carolina had the lowest (2.7 percent each). (See table 5.)

Union Mergers; Some Questions Raised by a “Disorderly Breakup”

Source: Gary Chaison, Employee Responsibilities and Rights Journal, Volume 30 Issue 4, December 2018
(subscription required)

From the abstract:
This essay discusses the 2004 merger between UNITE, a clothing workers’ union, and HERE, the hotel and restaurant workers union. Many labor scholars and union proponents believed that this merger would revive a dormant US labor movement and lead to great success in union organizing. Although much was expected, there was very little accomplished by this merger. While union mergers can either be amalgamations or absorptions, the UNITE-HERE merger took the former form. Although successful amalgamations usually occur when the two unions share a common jurisdiction, additional problems occur when the unions are dissimilar in size and type of members. The UNITE-HERE merger displayed none of these three above-mentioned characteristics. This essay also discusses issues of the centralization/decentralization of union mergers, the negotiation and promotion of such combinations, local union and national union mergers while concluding with a discussion of whether union mergers are an appropriate strategy for dealing with a struggling US labor movement early in the twenty-first century.

Related:
Introduction to “Union Mergers; Some Questions Raised by a “Disorderly Breakup””
Source: Victor G. Devinatz, Employee Responsibilities and Rights Journal, Volume 30 Issue 4, December 2018
(subscription required)

Working Women versus Employers: An Insider’s View

Source: Anne Ladky, Labor: Studies in Working-Class History, Vol. 15 no. 3, September 2018
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In her book, Knocking on Labor’s Door: Union Organizing in the 1970s and the Roots of a New Economic Divide, Lane Windham compellingly illuminates the context of organizing in that decade and dispels long-held myths. She makes clear that it was not a lack of organizing that resulted in the decline in unionization in the following decade but the aggressive refusal of companies to tolerate union organizing activity—or any campaigns that they perceived could lead to unionization—aided by government failures. The experiences of those of us in what has been called the working women’s movement bear out her arguments.

I am not a historian—my comments are aimed at connecting what I was experiencing as an organizer with Windham’s narrative. I was organizing in the 1970s around women’s employment issues as a member of the Chicago Chapter of the National Organization for Women (NOW) and then as a member of Women Employed (WE). I joined the staff of Women Employed in 1977, became its executive director in 1985, and served in that position for thirty-two years. WE, whose founding is noted in the book’s second chapter, is now a forty-five-year-old organization whose mission is to break down barriers to women’s economic advancement and promote workplace fairness. It has a staff of twenty; it is locally based with national policy reach. The organization has opened hundreds of occupations to women, helped outlaw and reduce sexual harassment, did some of the very first work on family-friendly workplace policies, made affirmative action a dramatically effective tool for women’s advancement, and much more. Today, its priorities are to change workplace policies and practices that affect low-paid working women, expand work-family policies, and enable more low-income women to enter and succeed in higher education. While the organization’s priorities have changed to address evolving barriers facing low-paid female workers, the organization’s mission is unchanged since its founding in 1973….

Related:
Tangled Up in Race: Working-Class Politics and the Ongoing Economic Divide
Source: Dan Graff, Labor: Studies in Working-Class History, Vol. 15 no. 3, September 2018
(subscription required)

The title of Lane Windham’s impressive new exploration of union organizing in the 1970s, Knocking on Labor’s Door, immediately calls to mind Bob Dylan’s hit single “Knockin’ on Heaven’s Door.” Whether the allusion is intended or not, the song’s release date resonates, since 1973 — marked by the oil crisis and stagflation — is widely considered among historians to be the year of reckoning for the New Deal order, the US labor movement, and the heyday of American liberalism. But where Dylan’s song is a dirge, with its mournful narrator accepting “the long black cloud” announcing death, Windham’s monograph exudes an opposite tone. By uncovering stories of worker-activists who organized with a purpose and a passion reminiscent of the 1930s, Windham rejects the notion of the 1970s as “the last days of the working class” (3)….

Labor Feminism Meets Institutional Sexism
Source: Katherine Turk, Labor: Studies in Working-Class History, Vol. 15 no. 3, September 2018
(subscription required)

Lane Windham’s Knocking on Labor’s Door offers important contributions to labor and working-class history and to the emerging literature on American capitalism. Most important, the book reminds us that the 1970s did not mark a gloomy descent into neoliberalism; rather, those years were shot through with electrifying possibilities.

My comments will reflect on how Knocking on Labor’s Door handles the identity politics of sex and class. The book offers striking insights into the political economy of the 1970s; in particular, it sheds new light on employers’ efforts to protect their profits as they navigated a globalizing landscape. But in blaming those employers when union campaigns led by women and men of color fell short, Windham downplays other factors — especially the roadblocks thrown up by wage-earning white men. Laboring women had to aim their campaigns for equity at their employers as well as at their union “brothers.” Aware of the distinct yet related challenges they faced everywhere they worked, many women experimented with and blended new and well-established forms of activism. The formal labor movement thus offers too narrow a lens to capture the range of outcomes that working people — women in particular — imagined and pursued as they fought the baked-in inequities that shaped workplaces and unions alike…..

I Hear You Knockin’. . . . But You Can’t Come In
Source: Alex Lichtenstein, Labor: Studies in Working-Class History, Vol. 15 no. 3, September 2018
(subscription required)

Knocking on Labor’s Door is an impressive achievement. By combing through National Labor Relations Board (NLRB) records and revisiting some crucial but forgotten labor struggles from the 1970s, Lane Windham seeks to refute pessimists like Jefferson Cowie, who regard that decade as ringing the death knell of an empowered American working class. Specifically, Windham wants to call our attention to the energized struggles of African American, women, and immigrant workers. Newly emboldened by the previous decade’s rights revolutions, these members of the working class sought to join and reinvigorate the flagging American labor movement that had previously done much to exclude them. They indeed were “knocking at labor’s door.”

But did that door open? With all due respect to Windham’s ability to uncover the dynamics of previously ignored or overlooked struggles of this era, I want to provoke discussion by laying out an alternative narrative, based as much as possible on the compelling evidence of labor ferment she herself has unearthed and brought to life in the pages of this book.

Here is my alternative narrative:…

Author’s Response
Source: Lane Windham, Labor: Studies in Working-Class History, Vol. 15 no. 3, September 2018
(subscription required)

I am grateful to Anne Ladky, Dan Graff, Katherine Turk, and Alex Lichtenstein for their carefully considered and provocative analyses of Knocking on Labor’s Door: Union Organizing in the 1970s and the Roots of a New Economic Divide. In writing the book, I aimed to open up a fresh discussion of the workers’ movement in the pivotal 1970s and also to offer new approaches for understanding working people’s struggles today. These accomplished scholars and activists clearly have embraced both undertakings. I would like to also thank the Newberry Library for hosting this forum and the journal Labor for allowing us to further our dialogue here….

Connecting the Dots: Labor and the Digital Landscape

Source: Richard Wells, Labor: Studies in Working-Class History, Vol. 15 no. 3, September 2018
(subscription required)

From the abstract:
This article takes stock of the recent union organizing in digital media. It offers some context, beginning with a discussion of the crisis in the traditional, printbased news business that is both cause and effect of the growth of the digital news media. The article then provides a sampling of the ways in which this crisis has been diagnosed and understood, in terms of the basic economics of the business and in terms of its dire implications for the public sphere. A review of the main themes in the history of union-based struggle in the news industry, followed by considerations of the union role on the infrastructural side of the increasingly Internet-based communications industry, helps pinpoint both the challenges and the possibilities represented by the unionization of digital media workers.

Unions for Workers in the Gig Economy: Time for a New Labor Movement

Source: William J. Tronsor, Labor Law Journal, Vol. 69 no. 4, Winter 2018
(subscription required)

From the abstract:
The gig economy has fundamentally changed the employer-employee relationship throughout America. In the past, employers relied on an industrial model for production, depending on long-term employees to ensure quality and productivity. The traditional employer-employee relationship was the norm and America’s labor laws were built around that relationship. Today, in order to hinder collective action and skirt America’s labor laws, employers are classifying their workforce as independent contractors. Whether these companies are accurately classifying their workforce as independent contractors requires an extremely fact-based legal assessment, but the ambiguity in the law has made it advantageous for employers to deliberately misclassify their workers. This has resulted in the rise of the gig economy, led by companies like Uber, TaskRabbit, and Grubhub. The gig economy has created a new class of workers, i.e., gig workers. A class of workers whose numbers are growing every year and workers who find themselves unable to avail themselves of the protections of America’s labor laws. The American workforce has evolved, and America’s labor laws need to evolve to respond to these changed circumstances. This article examines the history of organized labor, the importance of organized labor, and the circumstances that brought about the gig economy in America. The article also proposes new organizing strategies, changes that should be made to the law to ensure that all workers are able to collectively organize and avail themselves of the protections of America’s labor laws, so that the organized labor movement can be brought into the 21st century.

“They Don’t Understand the Value of Life” An Interview with Clarence Jones

Source: Meagan Day, Jacobin, December 14, 2018

Clarence Jones was homeless, despite being employed as a janitor for a multibillion-dollar pharmaceutical company. He thought his situation was his fault. Then he got involved in his union.

Clarence Jones is a thirty-seven-year-old janitor living in Indianapolis, Indiana. He started cleaning the offices of Eli Lilly, a multibillion-dollar pharmaceutical company, in late summer of this year. By early autumn, he found himself homeless, despite working two jobs. By late autumn, Clarence had become an active rank-and-file union member in both his own workplace and other SEIU-represented workplaces around town.

There were a couple of big moments that caused shifts in Jones’ perspective. One was his first bargaining session, which coincided with his first week of being homeless. Jones says he felt like his situation was his own fault — until he sat across the table from the corporate representatives and saw how hard they resisted a raise for him and his coworkers.

The second moment was when a coworker pounded on the table at another bargaining session and asked, “Are we not worth it?” Jones and his coworkers then stood up and filed out of the room, heads held high. “I felt prideful in that moment. I felt very empowered,” recalls Jones. “For the first time, I felt part of something that I know I should be a part of. I know this is what I’m meant to be doing.”

Jacobin’s Meagan Day talked to Jones about his experience of personal transformation through class struggle….

Unions 101: What library unions do—and don’t do—for workers

Source: Carrie Smith, American Libraries, Vol. 49 nos. 11/12, November/December 2018

….According to a report from the AFL-CIO’s Department for Professional Employees, in 2017 union librarians and library assistants earned on average 31% more per week than their nonunion equivalents. Union library workers are also more likely to have health coverage, retirement plans, and sick leave, the report states.

Yet library unions are as diverse as libraries themselves. Public library workers may be organized in a library-specific union that represents librarians and other staff, or they may be a part of a larger municipal union that represents city or county workers. Academic librarians can find themselves part of a larger faculty union or librarians-only bargaining unit, while school librarians are often members of the local teachers union. Most unions don’t include members in supervisory positions.

The landscape is complex, and it’s difficult to paint a picture of library unionism with one brush, but there are commonalities workers should know…..

Here’s the Secret to Getting Young Workers Involved

Source: Alexandra Bradbury, Labor Notes, December 6, 2018

“How can we get young workers involved?”

That’s the question on everyone’s lips, with union density at near-record lows. Many unions have begun holding summits for young members or forming local committees, which is great.

But too often they’re missing a step that’s more essential: don’t sell young workers out.

When you settle a two-tier contract that puts new hires on a lower wage scale or trades away their pension, it sends a message: “This union is for us, not for you.”

Everyone who gets hired these days at UPS or on a postal delivery route can see they’re on a slow track to nowhere. No matter how many years they put in, they’ll never get where their co-workers are. That’s a mark against the union from Day One.

Unless these concessions are reversed they will eat away at unions, alienating incoming workers until they’re the only ones left. That’s obvious, right? Yet so many national union leaders seem to have missed the memo.

So it’s heartening to see union members who get it—and who put themselves on the line for future co-workers they haven’t even met yet…..